Monthly Archives: March 2019

The mystery of Dorothy Ann Lovell

Nestlings Press will soon be bringing out The Many Worlds of Walter Trier ($22.95), collecting many of the illustrations of a great artist/illustrator who was hugely popular in Germany from 1910 to 1936 (when he fled the Nazis) and in England from 1937 to 1947 (when he and his wife followed their daughter to Ontario). He did some of his best work in Canada before his death in 1951, and has a small gallery in his honour at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

This book will tie 2018’s How You Can Tell You’ve Moved Next Door to Satan for the most pages – 176 – and will mark the first time an NP book has used colour inside. Sixteen colour pages in the middle of the book will showcase Trier’s illustrations from Baron Munchhausen, Puss in Boots, Till Eulenspiegel and other works.

Researching this book uncovered a mystery. One of the books Trier illustrated was Toby Twinkle, a 1939 picaresque adventure by English author Dorothy Ann Lovell. Lovell wrote many books in the 1930s and 40s, was published by such prominent firms as Jonathan Cape and Faber & Faber, and boasted such notable illustrators as Trier, Nicolas Bentley and Shirley Hughes.

Yet it was surprisingly difficult to discover basic details of her life, including her birth and death dates. She is not included in the major reference works on British children’s authors, and the usual troll through the Internet proved futile. Clearly, I had to seek the help of the experts.

My first stop was the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books in Toronto, a world-class repository for children’s literature. Services specialist Martha C. Scott knew of Lovell – she put her hands on a couple of Lovell books in the Osborne’s care – but her own search in the available catalogues yielded no clues. She suggested that I write to the Children’s Books History Society in England, which I did.

While awaiting a response, I contacted the University of London, since Lovell had written several books for the University of London Press in the 1940s. Laura Pritsch replied that the press had been taken over by Bloomsbury Publishing, and offered contact details there. She also said she would contact her colleagues at the university’s Institute of Historical Research.

I heard from Philip Carter, head of that institute’s digital wing. “There is very little on Lovell as a writer that we can find: nothing in the national newspapers online, no obituaries, and almost no secondary literature,” he wrote. But crucially, he was able to find United Kingdom census records on a Dorothy Ann Lovell who lived from 1888 to 1952, a death date that dovetailed with Lovell’s final published book. He provided a summary of important biographical information he had found – that she had worked as a schoolteacher (which meant she was familiar with materials written for children) and that she had worked as an editor for the Christian Science Monitor, which offered a connection to the world of publishing.

Yet there was still a missing link between this Dorothy Ann Lovell and the one who wrote so many books. Fortunately, Philip Carter ran into the archivist at Faber & Faber, Robert Brown, and mentioned the mystery. I wrote to Brown, and received the missing information I was hoping for. The letters in Faber’s production files were “mostly with the printers and illustrators of her books”, and “her own letters do not give much away”. However, a letter she wrote to her editor (Charles Stewart) on Jan. 14, 1944, said that she would be willing to read “junior books” for Faber because she had a little more spare time, as she had recently left her sixteen-year job as sub-editor of the junior department of the Christian Science Monitor. In fact, it turned out that a number of her Faber books, including In the Land of the Thinsies and Silvanus Goes to Sea (illustrated by Bentley), had first been published in the Monitor. Bingo! The link was made; it was the same Dorothy Ann Lovell.

Thanks to the help of all these professionals, I was now able to state definitely that Dorothy Ann Lovell, author of Toby Twinkle,  Stories of the Hoppity-Pops (1935), The Strange Adventures of Emma (1941), Curly-Top (1946), Little Gold Boy (1946), Magic in the Air (1952, illustrated by Hughes) and many other titles, was born on Aug. 2, 1888, in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, England, and died on Dec. 5, 1952 at University College Hospital in London. Her father was a Bristol-born timber merchant’s manager. As she was unmarried at her death (the form says “spinster”), her estate of 13,562 British pounds went to her sister, Phyllis – who, further research discovered, had been a prominent suffragette in her early years. Both Dorothy and Phyllis had driven ambulances during the First World War – a detail that resonated with me, since one of my grandmothers also drove an ambulance in Europe during the war.

One mystery solved, then. Now, if I could only learn the identity of “Bold”, the illustrator for two or three Walter de la Mare books in the 1920s…